“We have a unique opportunity to see a masterful execution of a historically tumultuous point in world history translated, into an artistic form,” says Holden. “Knowing the context of what these artists have been through in their lives really puts into perspective the feelings and emotions invoked in their beautiful works of art.”
The artists featured in New Theme’s Premiere Exhibition have all had their lives defined by conflict, fear and even death. Most of the artists were labeled U.S. co-conspirators by the Iraqi militia and exiled from their homeland during the war with Iraq. When the violence worsened in 2006 and work became scarce, some artists — many of whom were students or teachers at the Fine Art Universities in Baghdad — attempted to make ends meet by painting the portraits of U.S. soldiers. The Iraqi government threatened to persecute the artists as U.S. conspirators and their only option was to leave their homeland and families to find refuge in Syria. “I still dream of Iraq,” said artist Khalid Alaani. “Dreaming and imagining a beautiful life, full of colors, happiness and spontaneity.”
Though not all memories are as pleasant. Baghdad born artist Omar Odeh says he is haunted by his persecution in Iraq, and maintains that he does not wish to live in a country in which he is not allowed to paint. Still in Syria and unsure of the future, Odeh says this exhibition has given him a newfound excitement for life that he has almost forgotten about. “Iraq doesn’t feel like home anymore,” says Odeh. “Though my paintings are light and dark, just like every person, I do not want to live in darkness.”
Artists showcased in the exhibit include:
Omar Odeh – Baghdad native Odeh received his Bachelor of Arts from the College of Fine Arts in his hometown in 1998. He’s exhibited across the globe, including at al-Rua’s Art Gallery, the Arab Cultural Center and the French Cultural Center in Damascus, as well as various shows in New York with the help of nonprofit group Common Humanity. He’s a member of the Iraqi Painters Society, Iraqi Artists Syndicate and the Contemporary Visual Arts Society.
Wadhah Mahdi – Mahdi earned a degree from the Institute of Fine Arts in 1996 and graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts in 2000. A member of the Iraqi Artists Association and the Iraqi Society of Plastics, he’s held exhibitions at the Hall of KAWAF in Aleppo, Syria, the Hall of Visions and the Arab Cultural Center in Damascus and the French Cultural Center for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Mahdi left Iraq in 2005 after Islamist militants threatened his life for depicting naked or semi-naked women in his paintings. He has always fought for women’s rights, “because women’s rights, in my opinion, is missing in my country."
Alaa Ismael – A calligrapher and interior designer in his hometown of Baghdad, Ismael has been inspired by the valuable meaning and history of the Arabic language in its written form since he was young; believing a grouping of letters have a spiritual energy. He fled Iraq in 2005 for Damascus, where he lived for seven years before relocating with his wife and two daughters to Toronto in March. Says Ismael, “I always tend to look for a third area between darkness and brightness, happiness and sadness. The third area is the area of hope and patience, logic and wisdom. After all, we see all of the colors.”
Khalid Alaani – Born in Baghdad, Alaani started drawing early on in his childhood. He still takes reference from the nature he experienced on summer vacations in the countryside of Iraq. After a long career as a pharmacist, he returned to painting full-time in 2008. He left Iraq in 2006, fleeing to Damascus and then relocated to the United States in June.
NEW THEME Inc. showcases its architecture, design and furniture in their studio and gallery space, with custom furniture designed and constructed locally in their North Hollywood workshop by Wolfgang Melian.
ABOUT NEW THEME:
New Theme Inc., http://www.newtheme.net , is a Los Angeles-based architectural and building firm by Beth Holden and partner Wolfgang Melian. Holden launched New Theme, Inc. in 2004, developing and building some of the most innovative and eco-friendly residences and commercial and retail spaces in Los Angeles. New Theme is committed to a healthy environment, creating sustainable strategies in design and building that further to enrich the architectural world. Their diverse clientele reflects Holden and her team's ability to work with a range of complex programs, as well as fitting within the unique constraints each project holds. Their vertical work environment streamlines the entire process from design to construction to custom-designed furniture, so that the client experiences the financial gains that are a consequence of their unique approach to design and building.